Meet the Member: Yes Make

By Esther Ellard

Yes Make have been members since February 2020, they work on various public art projects. Joel and Morgan are usually found in the Makerversity wood workshop, we grabbed them to answer a few questions about the duo and their practice.

What’s your story – where did you grow up? did you study? what are you into?

Hey, I’m Joel. I grew up above my dad’s workshop just off the Old Kent Road. My dad, Arthur, is an incredible artist Woodworker but he is a tech caveman, hates maths and has less business sense than an ice cream van in winter. I got to make things and understand materials but never wanted to go into it for work as dad was always broke and to be honest, I wanted to be able to buy things I wanted!

I went off to work as an Urban Designer for the public sector in London. My specialty was to transform the way Councils work with local people to build solidarity as a basis for delivering large scale public realm and cycling infrastructure projects. I got to design and project manage incredible projects like cycle superhighways, the redesign of Greenwich Town Centre and the Brixton Liveable Neighbourhood. One of the challenges with designing differently is that in order to do it properly with people, you also need to build differently, there weren’t any contractors that could do that for us and it definitely felt like a gap that needed filling.

As great as the projects were, my role was almost entirely desk/talking based. I need to use my hands and come home dirty to feel properly satisfied with a day’s work. After 5 years in the public sector I founded Yes Make to use my skills as a maker and my experience in the public sector to build community projects and public spaces.

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Hey, I’m Morgan. My mum is from the Welsh mining valleys of south Wales and my dad from the rainforest deep in Brazil. I was born in New York and raised in North London from the age of 2. After what seemed a lifetime in education (where I met Joel at college) I decided university was not for me, I wanted to see the world having grown up on the travel stories of my mum hitchhiking around Europe, as she describes, before the hippies made it cool! 

I worked as a roadie in the major venues in London for a few years on and off to fund my backpacking across the world; South East Asia, Nepal, China, India, Brazil and Central and North America. I then came back to get a job front of house with Ottolenghi, helping educate me in the beauty of food, working in all their shops around London but starting at the original on Ledbury Road, West London. Alongside this, I was training for the world championships in ITF Taekwon-do and then got a shot at the GB Olympic Taekwon-do team, however it was not meant to be. 

After this I decided I was ready to study again and embarked on my undergraduate at Brighton where I uncovered my passion for renewable energy and sustainability. Having completed that, I made my way toward California in hopes of a dream job with Tesla. Along the way I co-presented at a conference at the UN in Geneva on earth jurisprudence, undertook a rural four-month development project in Nicaragua utilising pico-solar power and road tripped across America. It was in California that I chased up some cold calls, walked into a warehouse facility of SolarCity (now Tesla Energy) and acquired a job. After a few years, I wanted to go study again and undertook my postgraduate studies in Edinburgh in Energy, Society and Sustainability, where I had a truly wonderful time geeking out on energy systems from the social and cultural perspective! 

After affording myself some time having finished it in the midst of covid, I began exploring my options for the future. This is when Joel and I came back together, after inviting me to a build he was doing in Waterloo. I couldn’t resist, considering I had the time. After two weeks of realising how much we were on the same page about sustainability, doing something we enjoy, working to create a sustainable model of business and making amazing projects happen, we decided to go into business together!

I’ve always been someone massively inspired by the outdoors, both sports and nature. In California I really came into my own and discovered the peace and serenity I get from hill walking. I’ve carried that back with me to the UK and continue to do so to maintain mental composition. Additionally, I am now able to encourage the enjoyment of nature and green spaces in my hometown through what we do at Yes Make. Greening spaces and working with local people to do it.

What do you make?

We use the act of physically building things or working materials as a design process to transform run down spaces into exciting places through a process of working with local people. We are fully open to what people come out with through our process so we make everything from carved seats or structures and buildings. The main general theme is that it involves wood in its natural shape (not planks/boards) and generally involves a range of other materials. For example carving an Octopus, Hippo and a Rhino with 10-18 year olds, or creating a new public community shelter for Hither Green called the Ark by locals.

 

What is your process, how do you come up with ideas, what inspires you?

Our role is to allow the best to come from the people and materials in front of us. Interpreting the natural shape of a piece of wood means that we work with its existing characteristics instead of forcing the timber into a shape that it doesn’t want to be.

When it comes to working with people it is totally a process of translation. Bringing the best out of the collective intelligence of a community and translating that into physical objects or features that intuitively tell their story.

In regards to what we do, it is often Joel that inspires me to get creative. He encourages me to trust my judgement in the creative process and fosters the ideas that I come up with. I am extremely grateful to have a business partner who can also take the time to appreciate the other people around him during the design process. However, it is not only Joel and I that come up with the ideas, we make sure to include as many other people as possible when thinking through our projects, especially those that will interact most frequently with the pieces so that they can have some agency over the work that will be placed in the public spaces around them. Additionally, because we predominantly use wind-felled trees for our structures and workshops, it is the wood itself which gives character and shape to our installations, helping to give a more organic feel to them.

What are you working on at the moment and what is the aim for your project/business?

Our main inspiration for starting this company is to give back in a positive way to the environment. We have a business that is rooted in community action with an environmental approach to operating. We aim to create projects that can use materials from other projects to help perpetuate a circular economy model that can be held as an example for others. We get to be the catalyst between people and nature, connecting individuals to a piece of it through woodwork in the urban/built environment. 

One of our bigger projects at the moment is building the HQ for a charity called Global Generation which will be one of the largest circular economy builds in the UK to have ever happened. Additionally, Yes Make will be constructing the biggest cord-wood structure to have ever been permitted in the UK! And what’s more is that it will predominantly be done with the help of volunteers, coordinated by us!

Running a business that is rooted in principles like ours is the gift that keeps on giving. We get to do what we want, and that happens to be making people feel great through what we make which makes us feel great, a truly circular economy! Additionally, we get to be outside in marvellous green spaces around

 

Find out more about Yes Make here

 

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Posted By Esther Ellard